Future-Proofing 911 Communications with a Cloud-Native System

Pima County, Ariz., Valley Emergency Communication Center prepares to introduce its Computer Aided Dispatch system to the cloud in a pilot project this spring.

by Jim McKay / March 14, 2019

“Redundancy right out of the box” is what the Valley Emergency Communication Center (VECC) for Pima County, Ariz., hopes it sees in a pilot project that will test a cloud-native CAD system in its support of eight fire districts in Tucson.

The VECC routes information via a CAD system that can track units, correlate information and determine response, depending on the type of emergency. Officials are hoping that a cloud-based system will add to that a “three-pronged approach to redundancy” and protection against being hacked.

“Because it’s cloud based, it’s going to add in a level of sophistication that we haven’t enjoyed in the past,” said Carl Fortner,VECC communications manager. “By going to the cloud, we won’t have to maintain all of those virtual servers we have.”

The pilot is scheduled for two months, beginning May 1, during which there will be extensive testing to ensure the RapidDeploy Nimbus CAD meets VECC’s needs. Fortner said that if at the end of the pilot it is determined that 95 percent of VECC’s needs are met, it will go to production to be finished.

VECC will be on its normal Cox Communication cable line during the pilot, but then shift to an AT&T and CenturyLink solution for more reliability for the data exchange to and from the cloud.

The Cox Communication piece will become a backup to the AT&T connection, which will provide a FirstNet platform and position VECC for the future in supporting first responders’ Mobile Data Terminals and perhaps, 911, Fortner said.

“In the future, they’re going to basically tell you this is show much [funding] you have coming to your PSAP and whether you spend that money on company A or company B is up to you as long as they can meet standards,” he said. “That’s kind of how we are future-proofing what we’re doing.”

The mission of RapidDeploy is to reduce response times and improve situational awareness for first responders. Part of being able to do that is to ensure that the system is secure, and data is secure, said RapidDeploy CEO Steve Raucher.

“What we see as crucial to the success of public safety is it gives you redundancy right out of the box,” Raucher said. “You look at the baseline of hosting capability and just from an exhaustive point of view, how are you going to guarantee that your data is secure and always available.”

Being a Web-based solution means being able to deliver myriad features and functions quickly with much more agility compared to a legacy software rollout.

“With another customer, we released 176 features in a six-month window,” Raucher said. “That’s an extraordinary number. There’s a whole life cycle of things that has to happen if you’re not living in a cloud-based environment, which we are. It allows for a huge amount of flexibility.”

Much of the existing environment of public safety technology is still analog, consisting of a series of cables in a back room.

“A cool part of our infrastructure design is a patented IoT box, which sits in the back room and consumes all these legacy feeds by serial cables and pushes them into the cloud,” Raucher said. RapidDeploy just won a statewide contract with California with a similar infrastructure from which it will deploy analytics and tactical 911 mapping.

The California projects include the IoT device that provides every PSAP with a Web-based mapping tool called Radius. It will provide 911 centers with caller locations from both legacy 911 and a map alongside the actual device calling.

“The beauty of the cloud-based solutions is a game-changer for these centers, which can see the accuracy and have statistics to show the accuracy of the location,” Raucher said.